Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Go west

On the 11th month of the year, the Philippines leapfrogged 11 slots from a #195 ranking in the footballing world to #184. The three consecutive victories were the most we had since the 1950’s when guys like Ed Ocampo and Vic Sison donned the national colors.

Part of the credit goes to the sterling performance of the Fil-foreigners on the team. They add a huge advantage and a different dimension to our game, but for many people, it’s a short-fix solution to the problem. Myself included.

To my close friends, I’ve always decried the preponderance of our culture in the last quarter of the century over things foreign. These Fil-foreigners are everywhere: in showbiz, in modeling, in sports, and in music. I chafe at they way we celebrate that Nicole of the Pussycat Dolls is “Proudly Pinoy Made” as it says in the stickers that are tacked onto CDs. Sure I’m somewhat proud that she’s of our kin, but I’d rather not make too big a deal out of her and instead give the props and support to the local band scene (note that I said “scene” not music industry) that saw them outselling foreign releases for the first time ever.

We proudly champion a Filipino as the all-time top scorer of FC Barcelona. But wasn’t he part Spanish too? Isn’t it more accurate to call him a Spaniard of mixed ancestry more than Filipino? After all, he competed more and worked more for Spain.

Remember how the possibility of recruiting American swimming Olympian Natalie Coughlin into our national team was bandied about because her grandmother is from Bulacan. Sure Natalie would help, but what does that say to our local swimmers:
Sorry, girls. These Fil-Ams have better training and exposure so why don’t you stick to the Palarong Pambansa or what we have and the UAAP okay?

The 1987 Philippine Constitution defines a Filipino citizen as one who was born in the country during the time of the adoption of the Constitution; those whose father or mother are Filipino citizens; those who were born to a Filipina mother before January 17, 1973 and elect to have Philippine citizenship upon reaching the age of the majority; and those who are naturalized under the law.

Fine. But why are we so crazy to trump up those who chose to go to foreign shores to find their fame and fortune as opposed to the ones who left behind? James Bradley in his book Flags of our Fathers says that his father, John Henry Bradley, one of the six men to raise the US flag at the top of Mt. Suribachi in Iwo Jima, never considered himself a hero. The true heroes of Iwo Jima, he protested, were those who died on the island. I also think labels that declare OFWs as Filipino heroes are politically slanted and full of crap. Kaya nga umalis kasi feeling walang kinabukasan dito sa Pinas. I believe the heroes of our sporting scene are those who give their due by playing for their schools and their country and those who toil every day to compete in anonymity only to get bumped off because of the lack of funds and backers.

New York Yankee slugger Jason Giambi is of Italian lineage but do we hear the people from Naples or Rome trump him up any more than Francesco Totti or Marco Materazzi? In America, people are careful with distinctions such as “African-Americans” or “Mexican-Americans” because of the potential for malice and racial stereotyping. The US soldiers killed in Iraq whatever their ethnic origin will always be counted as “American KIAs” not anything else.

The roots of all this began with the Northern Consolidated Team of Ron Jacobs that had Chip Engelland, Dennis Still, and Jeff Moore. Controversial naturalized players who lead us to victory in the Jones Cup and elsewhere. But where are they now? The PBA which really kicked this Fil-Am mess into overdrive trumpeted the arrival of these foreigners as a means of elevating the game. When guys like Rob Parker and Sonny Alvardo ran afoul of the law, we promptly proclaimed them as shams. And when some of them brawled their way into the tabloid pages, it was said, lahing Kano kasi. And by the way, quite a few of these Fil-Ams who first came here are no longer in the league. They were drafted because they were Fil-Ams. Were they even scouted?

When Brian Viloria burst upon the boxing scene we were so proud of his Pinoy roots. Now that he’s lost two straight, he’s consigned to the footnote as we choose to focus on Manny. Buti na lang sabi ni Michael Buffer na taga-Waipahu, Hawaii siya at hindi taga-Ilocos, said some wags.

Some of those who competed in the last SEA Games finally came over after being invited like forever. Some finally acquiesced because their careers have stalled and they’re looking elsewhere to revive their careers.

Do we think so low of ourselves that we have to look for foreigners to wear our national colors? Our local sporting scene is so grossly bad that outside basketball, boxing, billiards, and bowling --- the “B” sports --- the others are left to fend for themselves. Then when someone from the other sports wins, they make that courtesy call to politicians who could use the photo op.

Our national sports officials spend more time bickering and politicking than prepping our athletes. Before the recent ASEAN Football Qualifiers, our coaching staff had no idea about the opposition we were facing. Before we won three straight, people said our football scene sucks. When we made the finals, people said that well, we played against teams that were ranked lower than us. Incidentally it’s only Timor Leste that’s ranked lower than us. It’s a no-win situation I tell you.

How do we arrest this? Here is an easier-said-than-done proposal:
Take a long hard look at the agencies that run our sports programs. They’re too politically motivated. Two years ago, I directed a photo shoot for past and present athletes for a traveling photo exhibit in schools throughout the country. I spoke to 40 athletes and all of them told horror stories of the corruption in sports.
Have a comprehensive grassroots program to build athletic champions. Utilize the Fil-foreigners to augment our program, not to populate it at the expense of our locals. And if the Fil-foreigners are serious about competing in the national team, then they should spend quite some time here training with our athletes and coaches.
Re-allocate some of the money that goes to our politicos to the building of centers of excellence.

The message we’re sending is that we think the Fil-foreigners stand a better chance of competing with their training and exposure abroad. Let me make it clear. I am not against Fil-foreigners. I’m happy for their success and what they bring to their respective countries, clubs or organizations. The point I am trying to make is that we put things in their proper perspective.

After the end of the ASEAN Football Qualifiers in Bacolod, one football official scoffed at the ill feelings of those cut in favor of the Fil-foreigners by saying “they (those who were cut) had their chance and that they didn’t win before.” Maybe that’s true. Maybe that’s somewhat incorrect.

Whatever. Isn’t it ironic that they went to the land of opportunity only to find their opportunities were back here in the Philippines?

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